At Chicago Dramatists
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—“Lucinda’s Bed” at Chicago Dramatists follows the many ups and even more numerous downs in the life of a female named Lucinda. The play by Mia McCullough traces Lucinda’s life from childhood through college, marriage, divorce, and death (apparently) in middle age.
There’s superficially nothing new about any of this, but it’s the manner rather than the matter that makes “Lucinda’s Bed” such a singular experience for audiences.
We first meet Lucinda as a nine-year old praying in bed to God for a good math test score so she can get into MIT. She also mentions in passing that her father doesn’t believe in God and is a very hostile person. Lucinda’s bed literally takes center stage throughout the 100-minute intermissionless play, though the bed changes style as Lucinda passes through her assorted life stages. A lot of pleasure and a good deal of heartbreak happen on that symbolic piece of furniture
There is also action underneath the bed where a young man known as the “monster” pops out from time to time. The identity of the monster is never clarified. At times he seems to be Lucinda’s conscience or alter ego, existing only in her mind. At other times the monster is also visible to other characters. His true nature isn’t the only ambiguity McCullough provides in her play.
The narrative moves to Lucinda in college where she traumatically loses her virginity. She eventually marries Adam, her childhood friend, a thoroughly decent young man and the match looks like a keeper. Lucinda struggles to get pregnant, finally producing a boy. But the marriage eventually goes sour, the husband fleeing what he sees as Lucinda’s relentless goodness and refusal to break any of life’s rules. Adam’s grievances are a little flimsy but they are sufficient to leave Lucinda alone, bitter, and more sexually active than she ever was in her marriage.
Near the end of the play Lucinda goes to the hospital with a heart condition. It’s turning to stone, a blatant metaphor for the woman’s hardening attitude toward her life and relations with the outside world. The play ends with an unnecessary and confusing scene in which Lucinda returns as a “monster,” attaching herself to Andy, an insecure boy, possibly her grandson. Yet her only son is gay so Andy’s provenance is a matter of speculation, like much else in the storyline.
“Lucinda’s Bed” is more successful in its parts than it its
whole. The best scenes range from comedy to intense drama. There are
perplexities in the narrative but that may not be a bad thing. This is a play
that’s more interesting with its flaws than many plays that proceed seamlessly
and predictably in a straight and emotionally uninvolving line. McCullough has
created some potent confrontations between Lucinda and the men in her life (and
inside her own mind) and the playwright’s language is pungent and adult. I may
have been puzzled at times but I was always engaged by what was happening on
Elizabeth Laidlaw, an actress urgently deserving of wider recognition, plays Lucinda. Laidlaw is an attractive, sexy woman who grabs hold of the play with her stage presence, especially in scenes displaying Lucinda’s anger, confusion, and resentment over what’s happening in her life. In fact, Laidlaw is almost too dominating. It’s difficult to accept her Lucinda as a vulnerable woman battered by life. In Laidlaw’s expressive hands, Lucinda comes across as someone likely to be in control of all situations, not their victim. Still, she gives a terrifically rich and varied performance, maybe the best by a female on a local stage at this moment.
Doug MacKechnie is Adam and Lucas Neff is the monster. In Neff’s hands, the monster is a little nerdy and hard to accept as a character who can intimidate Laidlaw’s imposing and increasingly aggressive Lucinda. The husband is pleasant but a bit superficial and his attack on Lucinda’s excessive “goodness” struck me as weak and self-serving. Still, it’s Lucinda’s play with both male actors serving largely as props for the woman’s passage through the years. Laidlaw’s commanding performance may subvert the dramatic balance of the piece, a possible defect offset by the pleasure of enjoying her in full dramatic sail.
Jessi D. Hill’s directing isn’t showy but it guides Lucinda’s roller coaster personal life with insight and a savvy blend of comedy and intensity. Grant Sabin designed the effective bedroom set and presumably the assortment of beds, likely with the assistance of properties designer Jennifer Thusing. Diane Fairchild designed the lighting, Kat Doebler the costumes, and Nick Keenan the effective sound.
“Lucinda’s Bed” runs through November 8 at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 West Chicago Avenue. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $30. Call 312 633 0630 or visit www.chicagodramatists.org.
The show gets a rating of 3 ½ stars. October 2009
Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.